Saturday, August 27

Sleeping Beauty

I was inspired to pick up Joan Gould's "Spinning Straw In Gold" again, recently.  An internet friend has been reading it on my recommendation and I thought it would be nice to look back through it.  It's funny how you can reread something after a little time has passed and it can mean something completely different to you.  You can relate to it in a way that is completely foreign to the person who read it the time before.  That's when you know you are learning something.

*                                         *                                           *

On Wednesday I said, "I still feel like that gawky teenager with braces and a serious lack of responsibility.  I know that everyone says that they feel this way, and maybe they do, but there are times when this insecurity eats me alive- like when I've put something off for too long and it becomes awkward to actually correct the mistake."

I've been thinking about that post a lot in the last few days.  It's been the chewing gum in the back of my mind (as Carol Birch would put it) that I've slowly been processing, looking for the essence of it.  Why do I feel this way?  What is it that makes me disregard all the growth I've been through?

It's hard to recognize how deeply this feeling goes.  It's painful to know that some part of me feels so inadequate and that feeling has spread it's roots throughout my life.  It effects my mothering, my friendships, my ability to become a woman.  I have noticed that it's been especially bothersome just after I have a baby.  After Jonah I just felt odd.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep or the usual new-mother feelings of panic.  That was probably part of it.

After Caroline was born, I spent a lot of time searching for fairy tales about that transition from maiden to mother.  It seemed that everything focused so much more on maiden to wife transitions, except for a few stories, like "The Witch in the Stone Boat."  It was frustrating.  Otherwise, I took a lot of reassurance from other young moms who have expressed feeling overwhelmed. Maybe I wasn't the only one?  Maybe this was all normal?

*                                         *                                           *

Reread that quote of mine:
"I still feel like that gawky teenager with braces and a serious lack of responsibility. "

You know the funny thing? I wasn't really ever a gawky teenager in braces.  I didn't get braces until I was a senior in high school and I wore them through the first two years of college.  I was twenty when they came off after two and a half years. I was definitely irresponsible during that time.  

*                                         *                                           *

Joan Gould said, "In real life, all of us know sleeping beauties who fall asleep during puberty and fail to wake up until they find themselves married to the wrong man.  We know grown women (my mother was one of them) who spend their entire lives thinking of themselves as gils- in fact, as persecuted girls like Cinderella, forced to sit forever in the ashes and do the dirty work while the undeservedly happy women around them pass their time by going to balls."  

I felt that.  Deep in my bones.  I never thought that I "fell asleep" during puberty, but the resentfulness, and the feeling that other women were happier and they had it easy.  I couldn't understand why our situations were so different.  

In sleeping beauty, she is put to sleep by a spell which is meant to keep her young and beautiful and untouched until she is mean to wake and become a woman.  Not just a woman, but a wife and a queen, and a mother.  Until that time she sleeps, but for what purpose?  Sleeping Beauty was put to sleep to keep her safe; to keep her from slipping in to death instead of her rightful role.  

How many of us have seen the writing on the wall and known that what awaits us is not what we were meant to have, to be and do?  So we build walls of thorns and shut ourselves down to preserve ourselves until things correct themselves, and until we are able to go through a transformation.

In that time of slumber, which is also, sometimes referred to being "in the belly of the whale," something must happen.  No girl just awakes one day a woman.  We change while we sleep.  

"Sleeping Beauty's sleep is not nothing, then; not simply repair of the spindle's prick, though that must be accomplished too; certainly not a punishment imposed upon her... In some way that we are only beginning to understand, it is a time for growth.  While she sleeps, her cells network and form new perceptions; her emotions catch up with her body even if her mind doesn't understand either of them. This is a time for transformations, after which- if she wakes up- she'll have the strength to face what overwhelmed her..."

*                                         *                                           *

I am realizing that I have been sleeping; for quite some time, actually.  But it seems that the part of my dream when I realize that I have been dreaming, is the part that always comes just before I wake up.  So, why do i stir now?  Almost four years after the birth of my son, and more than ten since I first drowsed (though I can't absolutely say that I have been sleeping all that time) why do I suddenly realize that I am asleep, and not awake?

'The truth is that we have no idea why we wake when we do.  Call it an inner migration from the Underworld to the upperworld, brought about by some seasonal change in the light.
At any age, if we get a taste of who we are, if we fall in love with life in whatever form we find it and we choose to embrace it, we can fairly call that moment, "The Prince's Kiss." '


Laura said...

I've been thinking about princesses again and need to call you. This one in particular bugs me because she isn't given the chance to be proactive in anyway - forced to hide then to sleep (okay, I've only seen the disney film).

So I like that you call the sleep "the belly of the whale" - but still it frustrates me. Maybe its just the male language that bugs me (the "prince's kiss" being the waking incident)? Also, did she choose to sleep and grow in her sleep or was it forced on her.

I don't know that I have ever felt this kind of sleep, but I need to think about it more.

Chara said...

I think that might, partly be the reason why I kind of skimmed over the story in the first place. She seems so passive and easily manipulated. The thing is that it's an issue of self-preservation. Sleep is the only option other than death, which is the original curse. Gould points out that many women choose sleep at different points in their life as a matter of self-preservation. She says that she chose sleep for two years after her husband's death because she needed time to process the reality of his death and of her life without him. The sleep is purposeful.

Gould also talks about how the Prince's kiss only comes because he is suddenly (oddly) able to enter into the castle, unlike his predecessors. When he arrives, in several versions, she is already awake and the kiss is incidental. His arrival and the kiss are the result, more of her own blossoming, not simply his arrival.

Was the sleep forced on her? In some ways, yes. Puberty brings girls (especially in our culture) to their most powerful and most vulnerable point. They become targets of men, and yet they are suddenly "women." They are women without maturity, which is dangerous for them. Their hibernation is their protection (maybe even from themselves?) from that immaturity.

I don't know if all that helps much. You probably ought to read the book. It's pretty good.